“Elvis is still the King.”
MR’s Gary Cordwell chats to guitarist and vocalist Thomas Brenna and bassist Stian Helle of Norway’s Lonely Kamel about their latest album Shit City, the importance of the blues, why the desert scene works well in their home country, why Elvis is still King, and their love for deep-fried Mars bars.
Hi guys, welcome to The Midlands Rocks and thanks for talking to us. Firstly, congratulations on your new album, Shit City. It’s fantastic!(Read Gary’s review here)
Thomas: Thanks. We’re really pleased with the result.
So, Shit City! What or where is it? Is it an actual place or more a state of mind?
Thomas: Shit City is a place, a state of mind. A love and hate relationship; a result of good and Evil, always progressing.
How did the recording of the album go? You’ve been quoted as saying you wanted it done ‘as simple and cheap’ as possible.
Thomas: Fact is we never had much money for recordings. Studio time in Norway is not cheap, so we try to spend as little time there as possible, he he. We always record live, playing together in the same room. I think that’s a big part of why we sound like we do. We practice playing together, jamming all the time to get the right groove in each song. That’s important to us. In that sense, we come prepared in the studio, record all four of us, and then we spend 3-4 days after to put up some vocals and guitar licks, just having fun. This time at around in Observatoriet Studios in Oslo there’s a guy called Kristian Syvertsen with a lot of cool stuff, a gear head, and we tried out different kind of amps and guitars to give each songs the character we had in mind. It’s simple in that way that it’s no mocking about rock ‘n roll. I think this is why people consider us a good live act, we can recreate the songs live without changing the songs up too much or bring in another guitar player live to get the songs to work in front of an audience.
Is there a theme or concept behind the album?
There’s no special concept. Songs are made simply based on what’s going on in our lives when writing them.
The stoner scene seems to be very vibrant in the Scandinavian countries at the moment – do you think that there’s a reason for this? Why does the desert vibe work over there?
Stian: There’s always a reason but it could be really random. Kind of like the grunge in the early nineties and how it spread, only in a smaller scale. We always loved the music and played this kind of stuff and it’s been an underground scene for all this music for years. But bigger bands like Graveyard, Kvelertak and of course Queens of the Stoneage have paved the way for all those smaller ones I guess. The vibe is good, the music is authentic; that’s why it works!
The blues. How important is it for you as a band?
Thomas: I always listened to the blues. Just crawling around on the floor while my father played ZZ Top’s first album, Cream, and Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. My dad was really into the heavy British blues and rock ‘n roll, and at some point moving out I stole his vinyl, starting to collect on my own. I guess later I discovered the delta blues and there I found the foundation for all the music I like really. Of course I like to mix it up a little bit with more progressive stuff with acts like Captain Beyond, Beefheart and so on. I just love good music, in Punk, Soul, Hip Hop and so on. So it’s more than just the classic blues, but yeah, a major impact on our music.
This album seems darker than previous albums – gloomier, more oppressive. Is this deliberate?
Thomas: I think this album has parts that are dark, but also the opposite. When writing these songs, there was a lot going on in my life. A couple of years of ups and downs, and I think the songs reflect that from the my sense of everything going to hell (‘Is It Over?’) to rediscovering love (‘Falling Down’), much like the meaning of the title. It’s like a love/hate relationship to someone or something. Sometimes you hate something so bad, and the next day you love the same thing, realising it’s not the things that are changing, but you, your state of mind and how you feel inside. Maybe I got a problem, ha ha.
Who or what are the main influences for you all?
Stian: Maybe British music from late 60s, early 70s is our main common influence but we were raised in the eighties and nineties with all that followed so the MTV generation was a big deal when we grew up. I still have like 50 videotapes with hundreds hours of music, interviews and live clips and gigs from Headbangers Ball which was the favourite program in the late 80’s until the mid-90’s. The grunge wave was also a big deal for us, but those bands were also inspired by the seventies sound so it all goes in circles. Think we all in Lonely Kamel also have love for different things but we agree on heavy, bluesy guitar-based music with a lot of soul. But Elvis is still the King.
The guitar interplay is fantastic; does it come naturally and how big a part of your sound is it?
Thomas: I think Lukas and I developed this just by playing a lot together and figure each other out. Sometimes one of us have a very specific idea on how the guitars should sound together, but often it’s a result of knowing each other well over time and just try out different things to make the songs as good as possible. I love playing with Lukas; he’s got a slightly different approach than me which makes it interesting. It’s a big part of our sound to keep a tight rhythm section. That gives room for me and Lukas to create that interplay not just between the guitars, but also with the vocals.
The artwork for the album is incredible! Who is responsible for it?
Thomas: The artwork was created by an awesome artist, Vance Kelly. He knew about us so we didn’t wanna give too many instructions except the album title and some song titles. Just to see what he came up with. He got it straight away creating two really cool designs for us to pick from. Some tweaking here and there and here we are. I agree, incredible artwork very suitable for the album.
Will you be touring the UK? Will we get a chance to see you in the Midlands?
Thomas: Yes. We will be on tour, I guess the first part of the release tour (we couldn’t fit all dates in one tour), from September 12th to October 5th. We got 4 UK-gigs starting off in Milton Keynes September 29th, Glasgow, Birmingham (which is cool being an Aston Villa fan) and London. Would love to do more gigs over here. Played Wolverhampton, Bristol and Manchester as well the last time we were here with the Sword, but couldn’t fit ‘em all in this time around. Hopefully we get more chances to play here and that we get a good crowd. We all love the British mentality.
How important is touring for you?
Stian: Touring means everything, especially nowadays with the change in the business and everything. But it’s been the most fun part for us anyway, at least for me. It’s nice to sell records and get some attention but it’s on the road it happens and you meet your fans and get to do what you love.
Without our endless mini-van rides up and down the autobahn in Germany the first few years we would not have been where we are at the moment. Thanks to Jens Heide, a rock freak from Siegen who gave us our first show outside Norway and our booking Sound of Liberation we are touring Europe every year. Sometimes it’s hard and exhausting but it’s always rewarding, thanks to all the cool people and the love and enthusiasm for the music we make.
We are still standing 6 feet below ground in our rehearsal room jamming, making songs, and love it but without the touring it would have been less inspiring, for sure.
Thanks again for talking to us! Good luck with the album. Any closing words for our readers?
Thomas: Thanks. Let’s hope it does well. We are really looking forward to play live again, meeting all kinds of cool people. Hope to see many of you Brits at our shows. This country got a great music tradition and has always been a great inspiration for us (except the Brit pop thing…). See you around with a jolly good pint of lager!
Stian: Last time in England was a blast and we also look forward to go back to Glasgow as well, they are crazy up there. Keep the deep-fried Mars bars hot & ready! Skål!!